Robin van Persie scored from the spot on his return to the Emirates to deny Arsenal victory in a 1-1 draw with newly crowned champions Manchester United.
Theo Walcott had put Arsenal ahead inside just two minutes as the Gunners chased a potentially vital three points to aid their quest for a place in the Champions League next season. But the visitors recovered from a sluggish start and after Bacary Sagna fouled Van Persie in the box just before half time, the former Gunner struck home the penalty and, as has become custom, followed it up with a muted celebration.
While Arsenal played like the team in greater need of the points, United also created a fair amount of chances and ultimately both sides will likely feel that a draw was a fair outcome.
The point means that Sir Alex Ferguson’s side cannot now surpass Chelsea’s record points haul in the Premier League. More importantly, Arsenal drop to fourth place, a point behind Chelsea and two points ahead of Tottenham, but having played a game more than both their London rivals.
Unsurprisingly, given the relative importance of the match for either side, it was Arsenal that played with far more commitment and determination in the early stages. Manchester United also looked like a team that had spent the first half of the past week celebrating their 20th title.
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Arsenal’s bright start was quickly reflected on the scoresheet, although not without some controversy. Van Persie made a less than glorious start to his first match back at his former home as he gave the ball away on the halfway line and allowed Arsenal to break forward. The second error from United came as Patrice Evra was caught out by a ball inside the full-back to find Walcott and, although the speedy winger appeared to be offside, he was allowed to go on and strike a shot off of David de Gea and into the net.
Arsenal continued to press and De Gea had to be alert to turn a swerving effort form Santi Cazorla wide of the post.
While United were still struggling to impose themselves on the ball they were increasingly doing so off it and indeed saw four bookings inside the opening 30 minutes. The game was lively in general as it became increasingly stretched with openings at both ends.
United were beginning to look threatening on the break, with Van Persie heavily involved. After firing high and wide at the near post, the Dutchman showed more composure from a similar position next time around with a clipped ball into the center of the box but the quickly arriving Phil Jones headed poorly wide.
Van Persie was the recipient of a similar ball later in the half from Nani, but, from inside the six-yard box Wojciech Szczesny made himself big and blocked the forward’s header with his face.
Arsenal were still performing well and created another chance when Lukas Podolski shot straight at De Gea, but a few disastrous seconds from Sagna in the 44th minute undid much of their good first-half work.
After giving the ball away to Van Persie, Sagna made an ill-conceived attempt to try and atone for his error with a desperate lunge that took down the legs of his former teammate. Inevitably Van Persie stepped up and blocking out the boos and whistles from his once adoring fans slotted the spot kick right into the side of the net.
Sagna, having been booked for that challenge, was extremely fortunate to stay on the pitch in the second half after another poor tackle.
Arsenal had again come out brightly in the second half and, before being replaced by Jack Wilshere, saw a shot from the outside of his right foot just travel past the post.
Expectedly, United, having overcome the rustiness of the opening exchanges, were now giving as good as they got. Wayne Rooney might have put his side ahead but from Evra’s cross his downward header lost power off the turf and Szczesny made a comfortable save.
As the match moved toward its climax, Arsenal’s need to get the three points became ever clearer as they pushed forward in search of a winner.
Yet they struggled to break down their opponents, with the best they could muster being a Cazorla strike from 20 yards that forced De Gea to turn a shot wide from his fellow Spaniard for the second time in the contest.
With their opponents trying in vain to get a decisive goal, United continued to look dangerous on the break and from a good early ball forward substitute Ryan Giggs turned back inside but his shot was deflected agonizingly wide of the target to ensure the points were shared.